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Iran resumes 20% uranium enrichment, seizes South Korean oil tanker

Iran has resumed the production of 20% enriched uranium at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow, an Iranian government spokesman said Monday. Iranian state media later reported that authorities had seized a South Korean-flagged and arrested its crew, alleging "oil pollution" in the Persian Gulf.

The big picture: The news comes amid heightened U.S. fears of a possible Iranian attack, one year after the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. 20% enriched uranium — which is banned under the 2015 nuclear deal — can’t be used for military purposes, but is a step closer to the 90% enrichment needed to build a nuclear bomb.


Driving the news: Last week, Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to restart production of 20% enriched uranium.

  • The Iranians said the move is the result of a new law that passed in the Iranian parliament several weeks ago, which calls for increased enrichment in order to pressure the Europeans to provide sanctions relief.
  • The law is also seen as retaliation for the assassination of Iranian chief nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Iran alleges was carried out by Israel.
  • The Iranian government spokesman said President Rouhani ordered the launch of 20% enrichment and the gas injection process to begin at the Fordow facility on Monday morning.

What they're saying: "The government has already announced that it considers the law passed by the parliament to be binding and will adhere to it," the Iranian government spokesman said.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the move is a violation of Iran’s nuclear commitments and proof that Iran wants to continue its military nuclear program. "Israel will not allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

The big picture: The announcement come less than three weeks before Biden assumes office, and is perceived as an Iranian attempt to pressure the new administration to move quickly toward rejoining the nuclear deal and easing sanctions.

  • Biden says he will return to the 2015 deal if Iran returns to compliance, and plans to use it as a platform to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal. That would require the U.S. to lift sanctions and Iran to unwind its recent nuclear activities.

Russian police arrest over 3,000 protesters demanding Navalny's release

Russian police on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations that began in the eastern regions of Russia spread west to more than 60 cities. At least 3,324 of people were detained and tens of thousands of others protested into the night despite the presence of law enforcement and extremely low temperatures, per the OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests.

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Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and Jeff Flake

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump, per AZCentral.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of Trump loyalist Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

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DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

A Texas man who has be charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

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Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."

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Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

Brazil on Saturday began distributing the 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine that arrived from India Friday, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Brazil has the third highest COVID-19 case-count in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The 2 million doses "only scratch the surface of the shortfall," Brazilian public health experts told the AP.

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U.S. national security adviser speaks with Israeli counterpart for the first time

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on the phone Saturday with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is the first contact between the Biden White House and Israeli prime minister's office. During the transition, the Biden team refrained from speaking to foreign governments.

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Biden speaks to Mexican president about reversing Trump's "draconian immigration policies"

President Biden told his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on a phone call Friday that he plans to reverse former President Trump’s “draconian immigration policies.”

The big picture: The Biden administration has already started repealing several of Trump’s immigration policies, including ordering a 100-day freeze on deporting many unauthorized immigrants, halting work on the southern border wall, and reversing plans to exclude undocumented people from being included in the 2020 census.

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Muslim families hope to reunite following Biden's travel ban repeal

Muslim Americans across the U.S. are celebrating President Biden's day-1 reversal of former President Trump's travel ban that targeted several Muslim-majority countries.

The big picture: The repeal of what many critics called the "Muslim ban" renews hope for thousands of families separated by Trump's order.

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